Vehicle Comparisons

Toyota Yaris

Toyota Yaris

Toyota has been continually improving its third generation Yaris supermini, but the package of revisions we look at here is the most far-reaching yet, delivering an all-new look, a new 1.5-litre petrol engine and standardisation of the brand's camera-driven 'Safety Sense' package. What was already a class act has just become genuinely hard to overlook.

Toyota has worked to improve the driving dynamics of this car in recent times and the result is that if you haven't tried a Yaris for a bit, you might be surprised by just how well this one handles. Probably the greatest efforts have been centred on improving refinement and to that end, more recent models feature better soundproofing material, refettled engines and sleeker aerodynamics to reduce wind noise.

The big news on the engine front is the introduction of a new 1.5-litre petrol engine to replace the previous aging 1.33-litre unit. Power output is up 10% to 110bhp, which makes the car nearly a second quicker over the 0-62mph sprint (which now takes 11.0s). More important is the news that torque is up to 136Nm, so the crucial 50 to 75mph overtaking increment is a second quicker too. The engine can also be paired with an optional CVT automatic. As before, other Yaris engine options include a 1.0-litre VVT-i petrol unit and a 1.5-litre petrol/electric Hybrid which has been re-engineered for greater efficiency.

And on the road? Well, it depends upon your expectations. Though the ride is better than it used to be, it still gets unsettled over rougher surfaces. And though the steering is a touch more feelsome than long-time Yaris users might be used to, it's still very light and better suited to metropolis rather than motorway use. Which is one of the main reasons why this car remains one of those you'd buy primarily to shoot to the shops and take on the odd motorway trip to the mother-in-law, rather than to speed around Silverstone. That's why traditionally, there have been no hard core hot hatch Yaris variants, though that's now changed since the announcement of a 1.8-litre supercharged 205bhp Yaris GRMN model.

Toyota has spent over 90 million Euros improving this model, so we're talking about more than just a light facelift here. The front end is completely new, much sleeker and classier than before. There are revised rear tail light clusters too. It's these days a more assertive-looking design and Europeans like that. The headlights feature projector technology for high and low beams and the clusters incorporate LED daytime running lights. In profile, this improved Yaris displays a smart door belt moulding, door mirrors with an optional folding function and classy 15 and 16-inch alloy wheel designs. A rear bumper and diffuser assembly give the back end a more self-confident look.

The interior features the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system, complete with a 7-inch screen. This apart, the interior hasn't changed much since this car was launched in 2011. Which means that build quality from the French Pas-de-Calais factory is as strong as ever. And that the controls are sensibly positioned and extremely easy to get to grips with. There's also plenty of interior storage space, though some of the ledges provided tend to deposit their contents onto you once you corner with any speed. The door bins are useful though, able to accommodate a decent sized drinks bottle with ease. The boot offers 272-litres of space. Toyota's impressive EasyFlat rear seats split 60:40, fold and slide bringing a useful degree of versatility and up to 477-litres if you need it.

The original version of this MK3 model Toyota Yaris was one of those cars that grew on you but it didn't have the force of personality to impress you with sheer showroom wow factor. The latest model ups its game usefully in that regard.

Is that enough to propel it into the top bracket of superminis? In truth, it was already there, but went largely unrecognised by the popular press. These latest changes probably won't impress those who pore over 0-62mph times or wax lyrical about handling adjustability. But what the Yaris lacks at the ragged edge on a Welsh mountain road, it more than makes up for in everyday use. Put down the car magazines, ask yourself what you really need a supermini for and then see if the Yaris doesn't tick every single box.

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Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta

Ford's Fiesta has always been affordable and great to drive. But state of the art? It's that too in this all-new seventh generation form. Beneath the smarter styling lies some clever user-friendly technology - and cabin quality that'll make down-sizing into one of these less of a chore. This is how you right a best seller.

Variations on the Fiesta theme may come and go but before driving any version of Ford's definitive supermini, there's one thing you almost always know for certain: that it'll be a great steer. This new generation model is 15% stiffer and both front and rear track measurements are wider. The engineers tell us that the chassis now offers 10% more cornering grip, supported by Electronic Torque Vectoring Control, which enhances the driving experience by applying a small amount of braking to inside wheels to assist traction and stability when cornering. Braking distances at 62mph are reduced by more than 8%. There are freshly developed five and six-speed manual gearboxes. And rear disc brakes feature on models with engines developing more than 100PS.

Ah yes, engines: you'll want to know about those. The three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit is carried over, here offered in 110, 125 and 140PS guises. Sharing this pow plant architecture is a lesser 1.1-litre normally aspirated unit, available at the foot of the range in 70 and 85PS guises. The 1.5-litre TDCi 85PS diesel unit is familiar from before too, but this time round, this powerplant is also being offered in a pokier 120PS guise.

If you go by the maxim that if something looks right, it is right, then you'll probably like the look of this seventh generation Fiesta. As before, it's offered in both three and five-door body styles and both are tidy pieces of styling with evolutionary styling and a bolder, wider front grille. The side profile is more settled and less wedge-shaped, combining with 71mm of additional body length and 12mm of additional width to give what Ford hopes is a longer and more premium appearance.

Inside, it's completely different from what went before. Gone is the previous button-heavy fascia with its cheap plastics. In fact, the number of buttons on the centre console has been reduced by almost half, with many connectivity and entertainment controls relocated to a freshly developed 'SYNC3' 8-inch touchscreen. A semi-translucent piano black insert stretches all the way from the instrument binnacle to the centre console, giving the cabin a touch of class. Rear seat passengers benefit from 16mm more knee room, supported by new slim-back seats that are softer, and offer greater side-to-side support. This Fiesta's tailgate is wider for easier access to the boot, and improved storage for personal belongings is delivered with a 20% larger glovebox and a 1-litre media bin in the centre console.

The Ford Fiesta has always been a vehicle the British public has warmed to but the truth is that before this seventh-generation model arrived, supermini buyers chose this car either because it was great to drive or because they'd been offered a deal too good to turn down: there wasn't really another reason to buy one. This MK7 version changes all that, smarter to look at, smarter to sit in, smarter to operate and smarter under the bonnet.

A smarter choice all round then? Many will think so. This still may not be the largest or the plushest car in the supermini sector but on just about every other main criteria, it's either up there or class-leading. There's an unpretentious quality to it and a focus on providing the things that really matter to small car buyers - the fun handling and affordable technology Ford has long delivered to them in this segment but also the low running costs, strong safety provision and low emissions they now need too. And it's all been done with a polish and self-belief that we've never seen from a Fiesta before. In short, this is, more than ever, a small car that supermini buyers simply can't ignore.

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Nissan Micra

Nissan Micra

When the first Nissan Micra appeared more than 30 years ago, it marked a revolution in the small hatchback segment and opened a new chapter for Nissan. This fifth generation Micra, we're told, is just as revolutionary, and is intended to raise expectations for what a small hatchback can, and should, deliver to its customer.

Under the bonnet, buyers get the choice of either a naturally aspirated 73hp 1.0-litre petrol engine, a 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit or a 1.5-litre diesel, the latter two powerplants both developing 90hp. Of perhaps more importance are the efforts that have been put in to improve the way that this Micra 'Gen5' drives. This model now features what Nissan calls 'Active Ride Control' for enhanced ride comfort, and 'Active Trace Control' for reduced understeer and sharper handling - both features borrowed from the brand's larger Qashqai and X-Trail models.

A new brushless electric power steering system - for greater steering feel and response - is also available. And much attention has been paid to reducing noise in the cabin. Improvements include considerably improved noise insulation and optimisation of the car's aerodynamic performance. Enhanced aero efficiency has been achieved thanks to the combined roof and side spoiler. As a result, this Micra has achieved a Cd of 0.29 - impressive for a supermini of this class.

If you're used to the conservative design of the old fourth generation Micra, you may need to sit down and have a cup of hot sweet tea after looking at this one. The styling remains faithful to that of the 2015 Geneva Motor Show 'Sway' concept car that led to the development of this one. It's a riot of emotive curves and creases, with design cues including a distinctive V-motion grille, from where a sharp-edged character line runs through to the rear end with its boomerang-shaped lights. There's a so-called 'floating roof', an effect created by blacked-out rear C-pillars that hide the rear door handles so as to create a 'coupe'-like look. All of this is matched by a wider selection of more vivid colours, including a particularly vibrant 'Energy Orange'.

Inside, much attention has been paid to driver comfort, with a lower driving position for a more secure driving feel. It should be easy for all drivers to achieve the perfect driving position thanks to greater seat adjustment, the fully adjustable steering wheel and the optimal positioning of the pedals and shift lever. The car's extended width and wheelbase means cabin space is now among the best in class. The gliding wing-shaped dashboard gives the cabin a light, sleek and spacious look.

In the supermini segment, it's going to take a very special car to divert customers from their Fiestas and Corsas. If this Micra Gen5 isn't that car, then it's hard to see what else the Japanese brand could have done. In virtually every respect, it's a big step forward from its forgettable predecessor. As a result, what's been delivered here is a supermini able to duke it out with the class best.

A heavily revised interior helps in that regard and the dramatic exterior styling also does much to reinforce the perception of quality. The Micra's chances aren't going to be transformed overnight but this is now a car you could realistically recommend to somebody who doesn't want to follow the crowd. I think Nissan would call that a result.

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